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Ind. office raided in growing voter fraud case

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 10/5/2016 Justin L. Mack and Holly V. Hays
Decal on side of Indiana trooper's car. © Provided by Indiana State Police Decal on side of Indiana trooper's car.

INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana State Police investigators on Tuesday searched a voter registration agency on Indianapolis' north side as they look into a voter fraud case that spans nine counties.

The investigation began in late August when police learned of the filing of fraudulent voter registration forms in Marion and Hendricks counties.

The investigation has expanded from Marion and Hendricks counties to include Allen, Delaware, Hamilton, Hancock, Johnson, Lake and Madison counties, according to a statement from State Police.

Police said the growing number of involved counties leads investigators to believe that the number of fraudulent records might be in the hundreds.

The possible fraudulent information is a combination of fake names, addresses and dates of birth with real information.

As part of the expanded investigation, State Police detectives served a search warrant for the business offices of the Indiana Voter Registration Project in the 2400 block of North Meridian Street.

The search warrant was served Tuesday morning, police said. The results of the search are not being released, and the affidavit and search warrant will remain sealed for 30 days.

"An investigation of this nature is complex, time consuming and is expected to continue for several more weeks or months," said a State Police statement. "Victims of the activities by some agents of the Indiana Voter Registration Project may not discover they have been disenfranchised from voting until they go to vote and realize their voting information has been altered. Such action may result in the citizen having to cast a provisional ballot."

Officials said a representative sample of voter registration applications received by county voter registration offices and suspected of being fraudulent have been copied and provided to investigators. The original applications are maintained by the appropriate voter registration office.

Craig Varoga, president of Patriot Majority, said because the IVRP has been specifically referenced in a statement from Secretary of State Connie Lawson, the investigation could impede the processing of the 45,000 voter registration cards that have been completed through the organization across the state.

The IVRP uses quality-control procedures to catch issues with voter registrations. Varoga said any of the applications that have been earmarked as fraud were already earmarked by the IVRP as incomplete or incorrect.

For example, if someone transposes digits in a phone number or forgets to fill out their ZIP code, the canvasser cannot complete that information for them, Varoga said. That card would then be flagged before being turned over to the local clerk's office.

"If they transpose a number and that’s inaccurate, that’s a mistake," he said. "That’s not fraud."

Varoga said he does not know the status of those 45,000 applications but said the seizure of cellphones and laptops during Tuesday's search warrant impedes the organization from further registering people to vote before the Oct. 11 deadline.

Varoga said State Police have been coordinating with the secretary of state's office, which he said became clear because of the timing of Lawson's statement and the onset of the State Police investigation. He said the investigation is a partisan effort "designed to make it harder to vote in this election."

He also said investigators seized personal cellphones during the search and denied staff the opportunity to contact an attorney, then told them that if an attorney were contacted, a state trooper had to be present. When an attorney did arrive, Varoga said, he was denied access to the office.

Tuesday's search and details of the investigation have been reported to the Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division, he said.

"It's an abuse of state resources, and it is a waste of taxpayers' money," he said. "It is outrageous what they are doing."

Valerie Warycha, director of communications for the secretary of state's office, said the office was briefed about the investigation by State Police when it began but has not since been updated.

The only reason the secretary of state's office issued a statement was because it wanted voters to be aware of the possibility of altered registrations, Warycha said.

“We came out because we wanted Hoosiers to know that there were altered and falsified registrations out there, and we wanted Hoosiers to know how to protect themselves," she said.

The involvement of a State Police trooper who is interested in running for sheriff in Johnson County as a Republican causes concern, Varoga said.

State Police Capt. David Bursten said the trooper in question was involved in the initial stages of the investigation but was not involved in Tuesday's search warrant.

That trooper has only formed an exploratory committee, Bursten said, and he still has until January to declare his candidacy. In that case, he would be removed from parts of the investigation that would involve Johnson County.

"There is nothing criminal or illegal or immoral about him being part of the investigation," he said.

Bursten said the complexity of the investigation likely means that the work will continue until well after the November elections.

“We wouldn’t still be investigating if we weren’t still finding issues that are indicative of fraudulent acts," he said.

Bursten also denied that there was any coordination between State Police and the secretary of state's office and refuted the claims that the IVRP lawyer was not allowed to be present as the search was conducted. Cameras and phones were seized because the search warrant included electronic devices, he said.

“This is not the secretary of state’s investigation. This is Indiana State Police’s investigation," he said.

In light of the investigation, police are urging voters to visit indianavoters.in.gov to confirm that they are properly registered.

If voters discover inaccurate information that indicates they could be a victim, they should contact their local voter registration office and the 24-hour Indiana State Police Voter Registration Application Fraud tip line at (888) 603-3147.

Follow Justin L. Mack and Holly V. Hays on Twitter: @justinlmack and @hollyvhays

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